Rebuilding Trust

In an interview at the auto show in Nacka, Victor Muller admitted there Saab made mistakes dealing with the press last week. “We failed last week, clearly. We have spent one year trying to build up trust and the confidence in the business. It will take time to repair this, but we’ll repair it.” Since last Wednesday, there have been serious concerns raised in comments here by the production stop– does Saab have enough money to last the year? Will sales rebound? How can we trust management now? Potential customers are left wondering if Saab is a viable company anymore. Any dealer can tell you one of the most common questions asked to them is whether the company will be around next year, making a sale all that much harder. While the SaabsUnited community knows that Saab has a sound business plan and willing partners ready to step up to the plate to provide bridge funding, the average consumer usually collects the worst snippets and pieces them together to create their own picture. Last week certainly didn’t help to change that view.

Going forward, Victor is clear– “The most important thing Saab must now do is to not be in the media in a negative way,” something we can all agree on. “We have spent one year trying to build up trust and the confidence in the business. It will take time to repair this, but we’ll repair it.” This is the statement I’ve been waiting to hear from him since this whole debacle started. Demonstrating that he’s taking criticism to heart, it’s clear that he understands that the only way to get customers back on board is to provide some sort of clarity and transparency into the business plan, so that the next time a supply disruption occurs, the media can’t react and create their own picture of what’s really going on. I think where the controversy started was when the press jumped to their own conclusions by filling in the gaps of the story without taking into account the whole story, only from one side. What I and others here were trying to avoid was making assumptions based on faulty information, judging for ourselves the truth without a full picture. This is why we tried to create space and time for the details to sort themselves out– now that production is ramped up again and the situation seems to be under control, we can finally start to reflect more critically on what happened. Some here rightfully demanded that management be clearer and come out with the facts in a quicker way. While we all like quick answers, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be patient and realize that Saab is essentially a start up, that they’re rebuilding their management team and that they haven’t been used to managing public expectations of their finances in such a public overt way.

Remember that under GM, Saab was simply described as “loss-making,” and there was always someone at GM left to pay the bills. Yes, being a part of a multinational conglomerate had its advantages, namely shelter from an overly critical media. In a recent letter to shareholders, Victor said “I have compared Saab often to a beautiful lion who grew up in captivity. One day that lion is loaded on to a truck and released in the vast savannahs of Africa. That mighty animal has to learn how to hunt for its own prey and support himself. Being used to receiving his meals in a stainless bowl, that lion has some serious challenges adapting to his new-found freedom.” While I agree that’s a romantic description of the situation, I think of it more like a divorce between two partners who fell out of love with each other. GM went off on its way with a fantastic settlement and new swagger that Saab helped to influence.  Meanwhile Saab is left figuring out how to do so many of the things that GM used to handle or that it never had to worry about dealing with when it was with GM– paying the bills, managing expectations of supplier agreements, etc. Is Saab better off single? No question– it’s finally free to date around, and clearly hooking up with BMW, ZF, American Axle, and future partners is a lot more fun than being bossed around by GM.

But there are certainly disadvantages. In past negative cash flow years, Saab could hide under the GM umbrella and didn’t have to report their finances publicly, though GM liked to say that Saab always had a loss despite evidence to the contrary, probably for currency reasons. One piece of information that is clear from the media reports is that the suppliers have been routinely compensated at irregular and often late intervals going back to the GM era; it’s clear there were supply disruptions in the past too. But now that Saab is on its own, there’s a hypersensitivity to any seemingly negative symptoms that could suggest deeper problems within the company. At any sign of trouble, we may yet hear alarms go off in the press, and Saab has a daunting task to make sure that these small fires ring as few alarms as possible.

“If we have a production stop for two hours, when we lose 56 cars, in the media it’s like we’re going bankrupt,” Muller said. “It’s almost impossible to prevent, but you can do your utmost to contain situations. The situation last week just spun out of control.” “The business plan did hold up last year” in terms of earnings before interest and taxes. Victor also said that he wished Spyker had not given production forecasts for Saab, saying the company had been “hammered” for failing to meet the targets. “The business plan and reality are two different things. The business plan said we were going to make 50,000 cars last year. But we didn’t.” That said, “The team managed to push down the break-even point and the cost, which was quite an achievement,” he told reporters today.

There aren’t too many second chances in this game, but with a new CFO, CEO, and strengthened PR message, I think Saab stands a good chance of getting it right going forward. As Saab customers and fans, most of us tend to give Saab management the benefit of the doubt, yet scratch our heads when answers don’t seem to line up quite as neatly as we’d like. It’s crucial for everyone, from the factory worker to the CFO, from the dealer sales representatives to the first time Saab owner, to have credible information. Some of us here have very strong opinions about how Spyker manages PR and the company, and suggest this situation shows that they’re out of touch and unable to handle the complexities of managing Saab. I’d like to remind everyone what a huge task it was for Saab to be sold from out of GM’s clutches last year in the first place, and have just a little more faith in Victor Muller and his team. With our commentary, as Saab’s most active customer base on the internet, our best function in moments like this is to offer constructive criticism and solutions to help Saab recover. So with that I’m hoping that we can offer up comments in a more constructive tone, and I’d like to put out a challenge to everyone to come up with their own ideas on how Saab can prevent situations like this one from getting out of control in the future. How can Saab stay ahead of the stories in the first place? Should Saab have a team dedicated to updating the Swedish press behind the scenes? Should they be even less candid with information and investor guidance seeing that their skewed sales figures seem to have triggered the most criticisms from the press? What positives like Saab’s low breakeven or their renewed model lineup can you elaborate on as reasons for the media and potential customers be aware of that shows Saab has a credible plan? I’m curious to hear what ideas people have in comments. Some examples of PR initiatives that I think Saab should be working on right away:

  • Present a clear picture of Saab’s business plan to customers in a 1 page brochure or poster available at dealers, so at point of sale any ambiguities or hearsay a customer may be influenced by can be eliminated. Discussion about how Saab can be small but still make a profit as a small automaker because of their lower breakeven and new partnerships should be made clear.
  • As soon as new loans are approved, instead of simply a press release, hold a press conference or call with media to give an update on the state of the company.
  • Give customers peace of mind when they buy the car, make it clear that their warranty is in effect and perhaps even extend it an extra year to give assurance that they will be covered no matter what happens.
  • Start leaking development information about the new 9-3 to give the press something positive to talk about, just like GM did with the Volt at the height of their bankruptcy fears.

There’s plenty more ideas, and we’d love to hear them. In the next few weeks there will be plenty more opportunities for us to offer our own opinions on pointed issues, from dismal US Sales, to development priorities. The new team is trying our best to keep the dialogue here above the typical speculative fray, and make sure we as an enthusiast site don’t fan the flames of hysteria that is so common on most Swedish news sites. While we can’t make everyone happy, we appreciate that you at least respect our intent to keep this site a positive place for people who love Saab to have a reasoned debate.

Finally let me address something that’s been bugging me all day since I first read it. Swedish supplier group FKG and investor group VEB are making it known they’re pissed that Victor got a €500,000 bonus last year, even though Saab lost money. Spyker’s annual report shows Muller was also paid a €550,000 management fee and 120,000 Spyker shares for his role in the takeover of Saab, though he doesn’t earn a salary. Did they forget that this is the man who pretty much single-handedly had the balls to save the company? In 2010, no Victor Muller means no Saab. His compensation is a drop in the bucket compared to losing the company. Given that one of the best chances Saab has at getting more funding is through his close friend Vladimir Antonov, in my opinion having Victor as chairman with his connections is worth every penny.

45 thoughts on “Rebuilding Trust”

  1. Well written Jeff. You are doing a good job as are the new SU crew. We are greatful that you continue this work. In regards to VM compensation the critisism is a joke. The work and effort he put down he deserves the compensation. As you say it is a drop in the bucket.

    • +1 : a good article.

      SAAB are too big a company to tell the press etc to “mind their own business” and too small to hide everything under a corporate umbrella. It’s difficult living life in the spotlight. First and foremost, SAAB is a business, and needs to do what it thinks is best for itself. We all want them to survive because we like their products, but we should remember that we don’t actually own them. We think we have good advice for them, but it is SAAB’s prerogative whether they take any of it.

      As for VM’s remuneration – hey, that’s what people in his position earn! (I don’t, but then I couldn’t do that job.)

  2. Great write up. I still have faith in Victor! However, he (like myself) is a choleric. He feels comfortable being in control and when that control is threatened he appears to get pissy (like me :)) Why is Eric Geers or someone else not the the face of SAAB to the media? They should put someone else in front of the cameras for a while. Victor can win any argument, but this is not the time. It will only be ammunition for the Swedish media.

  3. Thank you Jeff, for this well written piece! It addresses the highlights of the current SAAB-company; but also the learning process it’s going through.

    Buying a car company and transform it into a lean healthy organization requires dedication, positive news and support from the media. I’ve noticed that there were and still are skeptical people that would love to see the whole Saab-Spyker deal collapse because of the entrepreneur mentality of Victor Muller. It’s a fact that people who stand out will be a center of attention and that’s a shame. If it wasn’t for Victor Muller there wouldn’t be an active factory, new models on the way and a lot of people with jobs!

    Negative news is always a good way to destroy the fragil reputation of a new formed business. The Swedish, but also the Dutch media love to get their hands on something negative and blow it out of it’s proportions. It bothers me always to see this kind of news, because when there’s positive news they all shut up and look the other way.

    Personally, I think having a man like Victor Muller on your side, which has proven to be a very good motivator and inspirator, is a big plus in every way. This man hasn’t stopped working and appeared everywhere to say “Saab is alive and we are here to stay”.

    From day one, it was known that the road ahead would be bumpy. Fighting against those same people that would love to see it fail, setting up a complete infrastructure without GM taking care of it and bring back the believe in the brand. These are only small, but oh so important steps to take. Saab is getting there and some “less good” news is also news. But why did they fail to respond in a wise way? Even that is one of those steps in the learning process.

    Having learned from this mistake, they won’t be making this same mistake again. Transparency is the keyword for SAAB right now. And being transparent will be noticed. Your idea to provide dealers with information about the new SAAB to handout to customers or potential buyers will provide the confidence people are looking for. Using social media and dedicated websites to communicate in a transparent way isn’t something a (soon to be be) hip and trendy car company should walk away from! It just fits the way SAAB is… small, open and with beautiful cars..

    • Thanks George. I agree with you on Saab forming a new open communication strategy that actually has substantive information rather than PR sounding media bytes. It’s fitting that the creator of this blog started working on that very goal today 🙂

      Anyone who has any ideas on how Saab can improve it’s communication strategy and damage control, let’s fill this comment section up.

  4. Great post Jeff. NGSU is certainly keeping up the standards. Anyone heard from Swade recently? I seem to remember today was his start day in the new role.

    If you’re reading this Mr Wade…all the very, very best of luck for your personal new chapter!

  5. Well done Jeff! Good writeup!
    My best idea ( about the press crisis ) is to give imediate response at the least. The goal here is to reply before the question been made.
    Instead of manage the situation, let´s give them small leaks so they can talk about it ( like GM and the Volt thing )
    And i tottaly agree with Nate… let´s shild VM here and have someone strong to run the media.

  6. While SAAB may have been thought of as a “loss-making” company during GM’s ownership, it’s new adjective is “thinly-capitalized” under the new ownership. All blustering aside, changing that adjective would be my first priority.

    • From all reports, they have financing in place to last them through 2012 if they can meet some production goals. They have the potential to be a profit making company before too long. This is a lot more than can be said for some heavily capitalized startups, especially in the internet world. From what I’ve read Facebook (or is it youtube) has never made money and no one knows if will ever.

  7. Whatever Victor Muller’s self-admitted weaker points as a day-to-day manager may be and whatever some people may think of some of the imaginative ways in which he conducts business, he has an undeniably rock-solid track record for turning around ailing corporations into profit again. He has done so at least twice before with great success.

    Saab is a company in turnaround mode and will be for at least two more years, however much we here at SU may wish to believe that it is already solid and unshakable. But, well, that’s how it is. Given that, I truly doubt Saab could find a better leader in such a situation.

    Ivo

  8. Well written Jeff. You’re right, Saab has to be seen as a startup and as I have started my own business a few years ago I can tell that some financial hardships and even some problems paying the bills in time are nothing special. But I had the advantage of being allowed to discuss such issues with my suppliers in private. When it comes to Saab the press is on it at once.

    It’s really hard to judge what might be the best way to deal with the press in such moments. Saab could be open and allow the press to take a look behind the scenes but that might also turn out to be the wrong way as you never know what the journos take out of the infos they get. Even the release of something normal like production/sales forecast numbers turned out to be a bad thing.

    A good reputation is easy to lose but hard to restore. It will take a lot of time until such issues as last week won’t make the big headlines.

    The absolutely best thing would be to have a task force, maybe just one employee, that clears such issues with the suppliers behind the scenes before they really turn out to be a severe problem.

  9. Rebuilding trust is best done by action, not talk.

    More sales, improved product, better customer service. It can all start with small achievements, too.

    Btw. Jeff, well written! You’re doing a good job filling some big shoes. 🙂

  10. As much as I gripe and groan about the frightening level of blind faith shown here…

    Jeff, this post was an absolute blueprint for how to resurrect a faltering public relations campaign. Saab did everything wrong over the past week, but it’s extremely lucky that it can tap into a huge reservoir of good faith — both in the press and in the general car community. As far as I can tell, people want to see Saab succeed, for all the reasons we’ve mentioned. But members of the press aren’t going to wait for what you describe so well here:

    “This is why we tried to create space and time for the details to sort themselves out– now that production is ramped up again and the situation seems to be under control, we can finally start to reflect more critically on what happened. ”

    No. It’s the job of the press to push for answers as the questions arise, and when the answers aren’t forthcoming, or are obviously concocted by a PR functionary just blowing smoke, then Saab relinquishes control of the story. That’s what happened last week.

    Saab’s PR team failed on a few counts:
    — Never lie or diminish the truth
    — Get someone in front of the media who can authoritatively answer questions, even if those answers don’t supply much information.
    — Don’t issue fantasy press releases. Grandiose plans from a struggling company are ALWAYS suspect. (“Our new 9-3 will have a hybrid engine powered by unicorns and rainbows!”)
    — Be proactive. Jump ahead of bad news with accurate justifications.
    — and the hardest task: muzzle any loose cannons, especially at C-level management.

    • I agree with you, when I said “we tried to create space and time” to let the dust settle, I meant the SU writers. No doubt Saab PR messed this one up big time. There were a lot of calls for us to analyze the smoke signals and comments coming from all sides here on SU, and I’m glad we took the wait and see approach– five days later we have a very clear picture of what happened, where Saab is planning on going, and when we can reasonably expect to see progress. I still think the press rushed the story just to create clicks without fully researching what was going on, and I don’t necessarily blame them, more the climate of the shortened news cycle because of the speed of communication. Some might say that’s just how the game is played now, that Saab needs to roll with the punches and develop a new media strategy to counter attacks faster, I don’t disagree. I just feel like the press blew up the supplier story to astronomical levels to create a false story that Saab was on the verge of collapse, when they had the annual report at their fingertips for a week and in the end the only detail to flush out of there was that Saab is slightly behind its business plan but still sees profitability on the horizon. Pretty much a non-story that they could have reported on anyway if they bothered to hire an analyst to go over the Spyker’s numbers. Instead certain members the Swedish press connected the dots in a way to tell their own story that certainly sold more ads, papers, and clicks, which led even more reputable reporting agencies to dig further into the issue, only to finally today revise/update their headlines to more accurately reflect “ailing Saab not facing collapse.” Pretty haphazard way for the press to reach that conclusion.

      That it took Victor himself to talk to the press today really makes me scratch my head wondering what the heck is wrong at Saab PR though. I’m sure he has advisers telling him what to do, but it seems like he’s the only one capable of getting through to the press over there. Time for a new PR approach. I know I’m not impartial, but seriously just let Swade run the show.

      • Extremely well written piece Jeff.
        You guys are really doing a great job.

        Is Saab treated wrongly by the media? To a certain extent yes by highlighting even the slightest negative wibe and drowning all the positive things under the negativity.
        Could Saab do PR things better? Absolutely. It seemed as if noone was there to face the s**tstorm last week as the press had a fieldday.
        How to improve? Brag and shout about the positive things but in a collected Saab fashion. Tell the world that the brand is here to stay for at least another 60 years and tell it in plain and simple language. Never lie or distort the facts (I´m not saying that they have).
        What I´d like to see them do? I would love to see them (PR machinery) do their darndest to make Saab the cool choice. Do whatever it takes to get some A-list celebs to fall in love with Saab just like we SU:ers have done.

        Saab is so special that even the Swedish press should give them some slack – if there was a way to write a story with either positive or negative bias, please try to tilt it towards the positive.

        Cheers,
        Konsta

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that Saab should become more transparent. They are a public company de facto, and I must say I found their 2010 press release less than informative. Couple that with a number of issues that remain confusing or doubtful, especially for those who don’t follow Saab as closely as we SU addicts do.

    Saab has nothing to lose, as their every move is being scrutinized and analyzed anyway, and in response to what is being written by the media they have lifted the lid perhaps more than any other automaker due to their small scale (one production plant, two-three models, limited number of powerplants, easily definable suppliers etc.) Plus there is SU and a host of other “insider” connections with the online community. So, large amounts information about Saab is being publicized anyway, albeit in an uncoordinated and incomplete manner.

    I believe Saab could be different from any other automaker in that they could provide much deeper levels of insight into their current business and future plans without jeopardizing their strategy. After all, what would competitors do even if they knew everything about Saab? And suppliers, for the most part, already do. For customers, if anything, it would help build trust. For the media, it would provide yet another reason for constant coverage of Saab, as no other automaker would give that much material to write about.

    I do hope this is the way we shall see things going!

    PS. I absolutely disagree with the negative appraisal of Saab’s PR team. Eric Geers is doing a splendid job, but I believe VM is very hard to control, and it’s in his nature to go out and talk to the press rather than ask Eric for advice and fronting the press himself or via press release. This is why we get loads of VM in the media and the illusion of minimum PR work.

    • I like Eric and think he’s best in crisis mode, after all he got the organization through the sale very well. He’s doing the best job he can with what information he’s allowed to give out. At the same time there’s obviously some serious problems keeping the press in the loop as to Saab’s real situation, so something’s gotta give at PR.

  12. Nice and well written piece from you Jeff! Mistakes in the PR handling cannot correct the damage that already has been caused. Handled well the future will not show us events like this again. Good PR doesn’t show that much, bad is very painful.

    Obviously the was at least some reason to talk bad about Saab, but these small pieces are just the kind of meat that the media vultures like so much. The lion should clean its plate!

    Saab has beautiful products and wants to show them off in Nacka (Vårsalongen) but the media looks for any stain of blood, any hint of carcass, any hidden in the closet corpses because they love that kind of shit. It is their job to hunt down dirt. And they are good at it.

    Therefore Saab should give realistic goals to the press (80 000 cars sold in 2011, anyone?) , realistic updates when things are going in a different way (we had a sales dip due to a PR glitch in March/April?) and give the correct info before the shit hits the fan (we lowered costs because sales were not becoming as high as expected therefore profit level is secured – before questions are asked) – the proactive way of communicating.

    Sveriges Radio had Saab admitting problems with cash (liquidity) as their first news item yesterday at their main news update of the day. The whole picture was in general balanced and well done, but still the main info remembered by 95% of the listeners will be that Saab 1) has a cash problem 2) makes mistakes. In all that is bad but I couldn’t blame SR for it. The strange voices with different explanations during the week, no JÅJ at all, although he is the man in charge, still. This makes one wonder.

    I truly hope that we have seen that the “NG independent Saab” has learned some very important lessons in PR communication and that this is crucially linked to sales, that this discipline is at least as important as the cars themselves.

    Now let’s get back to some work done, some sales records are there at to be set. I know it will take time. It really will. The battle has just begun.

    Enjoy!

  13. Saab should focus on selling cars. !

    It might have been a mistake to set goals on sales numbers, but since the numbers are out, the only thing that will stop the suspicious writing are sales that match or exeed the reported numbers. If Saab succeds in this, the media will start writing articles about “the miracle in Trolhättan”, how the underdog succeded ect.

  14. To be honest I wouldn’t want to work for Saab PR at this point in time, but they do have to get organized a bit better and agree on the responsibilities when bad press hits them. EG must be able contact VM and JÅJ 24/7 so they can have an official press release out within 2 hours if that’s what required. Wouldn’t be a bad idea for the SU crew to have access to EG or Swade (who’s up all night 😉 ) if something severe comes up?

    I also agree that Saab should be fighting fire with fire. Saab sales rose by 200%! in (pick a country) in Q1 for example. Saab tops the list of brand with the highest gain in sales in US in March and so on.
    Now that the prediction genie is out the bottle they could simply start reporting facts and stop guessing future sales unless they have a crystal ball in THN (which I doubt).
    As stated before short sales numbers have very little to do with the long term viability of a company.

    • It seems the reason why the suppliers go to the press is that Saab make it sound like the problem is the dealers themselves. That Saab claims the suppliers demand an increase in prices while the reality is that Saab hasn’t payed the bills. The suppliers have and still want to stand up for Saab, but they don’t want to be blamed unjustifiably. They want Saab to come forth with the truth if Saab is begging for part-payment terms (installment plans?). The head of the supplier organization doesn’t think the media has blown this out of proportion, rather that Saab has to lie in the bed they’ve made for themselves.

      It seems Saab needs to communicate to the suppliers and the supplier organization what they communicated to the press yesterday. And quickly! And inform the PR-department that “some suppliers want to renegotiate the contracts” is NOT a viable excuse. In fact it seems that it is what causes the suppliers to go to the press in the first place!

  15. I´m afraid that the suppliers are not handling this as well as they could. Not to say that Saab wasn´t at fault but still…
    Damn shame altogether – JÅJ and VM should rally Eric Geers to answer questions ASAP.

  16. So with the new stop today, it’s really time to start rebuilding the trust. Let’s see if they do sth. or not. The press starts again with the same stories as last week…

  17. Ouch:

    Again a disruption. Below is a google trans. from http://www.nu.nl:

    Saab production falls quiet again

    Production at the Swedish automaker Saab, a subsidiary of the Dutch Spyker Cars is again stopped.
    That made Saab announced on Tuesday.

    The company has to do with supply problems. Saab said in negotiations with suppliers. Last week, production was interrupted several times even after suppliers stopped supplying Saab had ceased. There would be unpaid bills.

    ”We have conversations with vendors and do our best to come to mutual agreement”said a spokeswoman for Saab. Four or five suppliers would not deliver to Spyker, says a Swedish trade association.

    CEO Victor Muller of Spyker Cars said Tuesday that the company is counting on more production disruptions. ”This is an ongoing thing. It will take some time to get everyone neatly into the heel. We get it under control.”

    A day earlier Muller tried to reassure investors about whether the financial position of the company. He said inter alia that the company”not”is the point of collapse

    • That’s disturbing. The scramble for financing, and the tapping into the EIC line of credit, won’t make suppliers any confident in the company’s viability.

      When your vendors — the people who need your business — start to question the solidity of the ongoing operations, then that sends messages throughout the business community.

  18. The problems Saab face now are not insurmountable. A proactive approach sounds like what is both needed and promised by the company. Increased sales are needed, particularly in the large US market. Some have suggested that the price of the new 9-5 is a little high in the US. One suggestion I have made to Saab USA is to offer an Aero version of the 9-5 with the 4 cylinder turbo engine, Hirsch enhanced, with Front Wheel Drive and a manual transmission. This configuration of the Aero is available in other markets and would accomplish two things in the North American/US market: offer a lower priced full-on version of the 9-5 as well as be a true replacement for all of the owners of the old 9-5 Aero who don’t want Four Wheel Drive nor an automatic transmission, and prefer the lighter, more fuel efficient turbo four. This would allow a greater choice for potential customers and give last generation Aero owners something other than the base version with very little in the way of standard and optional equipment (which is all there is to choose from if front wheel drive and a manual transmission is desired). Currently in the US, Saab traditionalist are buying other cars to get what we were always able to buy from Saab. Hello Saab USA?

  19. The topic (restoring trust) from a different angle. German magazine Auto-Motor-und-Sport has an interesting comparison on their website, namely big differences between ECE-consumption and real life consumption. The magazine has developed over the years a highly standardized test cycle, which is much more realistic than the laboratory ECE-test. It contains more highway traffic above 120km/h and use of climatisation, stop and go and so on. Their list is impressive, it shows that many of the top German carmakers have real life consumption, that has nothing to do with official values. Here a few examples from their test:

    ECE consumption test consumption added test consumption in %
    mini cooperS 5.8 9.8 69.0
    bmw GT 535d 6.7 11.1 65.7
    bmw 535xd 5.7 9.5 66.7
    bmw z4 sdrive 35i 9.0 15.8 75.8
    MB CLS 350 bl efficiency 6.8 11.7 70.6

    audi tts coupé 7.7 13.5 75.3
    2.0 tfsi
    audi s3 8.5 15.9 87.1
    2.0 tfsi
    audi rs5 coupe 10.8 18.7 73.1
    audi r8 gt 13.8 24.3 74.8
    porsche panamera turbo 11.5 19.7 71.3
    porsche cayman S 9.2 15.8 71.7

    vw scirocco r 8.1 14.4 77.8
    vw golf gti 7.3 13.1 79.5
    vw polo gti 5.9 11.7 98.3

    I did some exploratory testing on their website with other class leading models, here are the results:

    audi a6 quattro
    3.0 tfsi 8.2 12.6 53.6
    bmw 523i 7.6 10.8 42.1
    mb CGI 350 touring 8.6 11.0 27.9

    saab 9-5 2.0t 9.1 11.5 26.4

    The interesting thing about all these test data is, that particularly products from VW-group have test-consumption, that is nearl 65-100% above the standardized ECE-consumption. Audi’s as before are still gas-guzzlers. BMW is not much better. In terms of real life consumption, the difference for Saab’s are smaller than the rest, in fact much smaller.
    With respect to what is said to consumers, official Saab values are much more honest than the rest. Other carmakers values are plain crap.
    Btw, in AMS test for the Saab 9-5, the judgement on the car is not too positive due to – high test consumption. (!!!)
    Would be worth for Saab marketing, to put a small one-pager together, which compares Saab test results with those of their German competitors. Can be based on the AMS test results, or on other standardized tests.

    • Good call. I wonder how the US cycle compares with claimed outcomes. Don’t worry about the data, email it to [email protected] and I’ll put it together better at some point. I agree Saab should be saying something about being honest with their customers, lead with something like “Our customers trust their cars.” Do personal stories about a car beating fuel economy ratings, having AWD performance that leaves SUVs stuck on the side of the road in snowstorms, gives passing power in tricky situations, etc. Theme of the ad, trust.

  20. I’ve been sharing ideas with our local dealer…

    In the auto section of the newspaper (calgary herald)… instead of publishing pics of saabs, just publish QR codes with no descriptor, which links to videos of saab models in action. It would be a first and create some buzz and appeal to the prospective buyers.

    I was also thinking you could create some buzz by holding an exclusive luncheon/test drive at bankers hall ( the downtown banking centre for Calgary). Have a 9-5 on display in bankers hall…. and announce lunch time test drives with free lunch included (RSVP only).

    Have six 9-5’s available to have people take it for a spin up Deerfoot (our main highway) (and give the 9-5 the opportunity to show what it is capable of… the caveat here being “not” to disclose the size of the engine before the test driver takes the car for a spin… .and let their impressions of the drive influence their senses). It would be possible to video record their raw impressions…. these could then be uploaded to Saab’s site on youtube. (this is in reference to the preconceived notion by prospect buyers that a 4 cylinder for a 9-5 is too small).
    I hope some marketing guru’s can step up to the plate and help saab over come this short-term difficultly. If Chrysler and Audi could do it, so can SAAB.

  21. The issue with revealing more and more info about the new 9-3 is that as soon as you let that cat out of the bag, you will definitely kill current 9-3 sales unless you dramatically discount them (aren’t they being discounted enough already)?

    Once people see the new “real Saab” 9-3, true Saab enthusiasts would probably just wait another year if they were considering a 9-3. So who would buy the current 9-3’s? People looking for a deal, or people comparison shopping with Audis and Subarus and the like — people who aren’t necessarily automatically sold on Saab as a brand.

    These reports coming out are so damaging. I’m as big a fan of Saab as anyone — I just sold my 1990 SPG, but I still have two 9-5’s (2004 Arc SportCombi and a 2003 Aero Sedan) and given that we’re a one-income family and I have to make financial decisions that are right for the family, I don’t know if I could justify buying another Saab right now. Certainly the new 9-5 SC looks appealing, but now that they have one engine option (220hp — in a large wagon??), I don’t see myself springing for that, and I don’t know who would. I like the 9-4X, but would much prefer a wagon to a large crossover.

    I’m sure I’ll get railed for this, but I still think the 9-4X will be the most successful Saab in the US over the next couple years, even with gas prices where they are. For US consumers to accept a 4-cyl in a large wagon, it would have to be smooth as silk and really impress on a test drive (our automatic 9-5 wagon vibrates like hell at a stop, and the dealer says it’s “normal”). I’m not sure a 220hp 2.0L engine is going to cut it for people looking at a $40K car. In fact, I know it’s not going to cut it. I know a lot of you said, “you think they didn’t do research?” I think they did, but it must be flawed. I know what my friends who don’t own Saabs would say. $40K for a 220hp wagon with a 4-cyl in it? Not going to fly. MAYBE a V-6 wagon making 220hp and getting 20/28mpg would fly at $40K, but even then.

    I remember years ago when Subaru only had a 4-cyl in its lineup. I was looking at one in the showroom and someone was asking me about it because he said it looked nice. He asked me if I knew what engine it had. I said a 165hp 4-cyl. “4-cylinder? Do they have a 6?” Nope. “That ends it for me.” His direct words. I think he’s typical of the common US buyer.

    Saab is going to have to hope a lot of brand-loyal current and past Saab owners step up to the plate on this one. Everyone else is going to see these reports and the product offering and walk away. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. Hopefully the 9-4X will be appealing enough that US buyers will overlook the reports.

  22. I agree with almost everything you said. I don’t think releasing details about the 9-3 development process showing under the skin details, how the car is being developed to beat safety standards, innovative eXWD components, IQon development, etc., is a bad thing. I think actually that Steven Wade should be the guy managing that, I think involving customers in the development process (even if they don’t have a huge role in shaping what ends up happening, just giving them a window into it) is what Saab should be doing. So I agree, don’t show them finished renderings…but a glimpse into headlight design, how laser welds and machinery are being managed, how eXWD tests are going behind the scenes, that sort of thing really helps give the impression that Saab is a company doing exciting new things and planning on being around a while, not a company on the verge of disappearing.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the 9-4x, and I think they need to go a step further with Aero pricing and design for it to really take off. Sales would skyrocket if they can bring the cost under $45K and fit a redesigned one color paint scheme with more aggressive front and rear bumpers. I’ll go into details later closer to the NY show. But yes, the 9-4x could be huge.

    As for how a 220hp wagon will sell, Ford is betting on a similar solution by making the next Explorer a turbo 4-cylinder too. From Car and Driver:

    As with all other D-platform offerings, which also include the Lincoln MKS and MKT, the Explorer’s optional engine will be one of Ford’s EcoBoost-branded mills. But it won’t be the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6; instead Ford plans to charge a premium for a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s less powerful than the standard six, making 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. This one sounds like a tough sell to us, even with its expected fuel-economy boost of 30 percent over the outgoing 4.0-liter. Ford defends the 2.0-liter’s higher price by citing the complexity and cost associated with turbocharged engines. The fact that the engine is built in Spain and then shipped to Ford’s Chicago plant for installation can’t help, either.

    So the idea of the 220hp unit in a lighter wagon might actually be right on target. Ford has been on a roll lately, and I’m impressed that they’re taking the risk on a 4-cylinder.
    As I said since the day the supplier crisis hit, the NY show is the biggest moment for Saab to have a turnaround. Several events happening around that time– VA should hopefully be approved to invest, which will be a hugely important good piece of news in the media. Steven will be launching his new project right in time for the NY show. The new executive team gets to present their new vision for US sales centered around the 9-4x for 2011, led by Jim Sweeting. The PhoeniX gets seen by over 1,000,000 east coasters. I could go on, but I’ll be doing it in person, so that will have to suffice.

    • Revealing the new technology aspects is spot on, I think. And yes, I was talking more about clues regarding final renderings. It’s a fine line, for sure. I wrote a post for Nines and the Saab Club of North America website a while ago (http://tinyurl.com/2wbln6n) about how I thought that Saab really needs to get front and center on marketing their technology again. You mention iQon and I think that’s an awesome example, as is eXWD. Saab is way ahead here and I think people will respond to that if it’s out there. I know they probably can’t risk having a whole ad campaign on iQon when it’s ready, but man, I think that’s something that would get people back in the showroom.

      As for Ford and the turbo4, I understand what you’re saying, but I think there’s a difference here — Ford sells a lot of cars, obviously, and is already in the public eye. I haven’t looked at the figures, but I bet they expect to sell 300,000 to 400,000 of the 2012 Explorer. They can afford to carve out 10% of those and pop in a slightly more fuel-efficient, torque-y motor and charge a premium for those who want it. In fact, I didn’t know that Ford was doing this, but it would appeal to me as well. I’m sure it will be cheaper than the Saab 9-5 SC, have more room, and probably get about the same mileage. I would even bet they’ll weigh within 500 lbs of each other. And don’t forget, Ford sits on top of the JD Power reliability/quality rankings. No Saab panache, probably less technology, but definitely appealing. And I’m sure they’ll sell. And when one does, Ford isn’t going to go “whew — we sold another one — now we can pay our suppliers.”

      Saab is risking MUCH more by offering only a 220hp option in their 9-5 SC. If gasoline goes up to $5 a gallon and people start looking for non-SUV’s for the family that are fuel efficient, it will look like a brilliant move. But until $5 gasoline happens here, I think power rules the day and people will cut the Saab out of their evaluation just because of this one specification. It’s similar to pricing — people discount Saab just because they think they can’t afford them. As soon as they see the sticker on Edmunds or whatever, they remove it, not knowing if they go into the dealership they can get $5-10K off. I think it’s going to be the same here. If they don’t test drive it and feel how much 220hp (and low-rpm torque) can be, they’ll cross it off the list before they even get to experience it. I hope I’m wrong.

      But I do hope you’re right about this upcoming perfect storm. I’ll be at the NY Auto Show one of the weekend days and expect to see many people around the 9-4X. I think it’s going to have to carry Saab’s water until the new 9-3 comes out. Let’s hope it makes a big splash. 🙂

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